For the first time in 13 years, members attending general conference will have the opportunity to gather in a solemn assembly for the specific purpose of sustaining a new president of the Church. During the 178th Annual General Conference of the Church, which convenes April 5, President Thomas S. Monson will be sustained as the 16th President of the Church, succeeding President Gordon B. Hinckley, who passed away Jan. 27, 2008.
The solemn assembly to sustain President Monson affords us the opportunity to reflect on the background and purpose of these sacred occasions, which have their origins in the antiquity of God's dealings with His covenant people.
The Old Testament records that solemn assemblies were held on the seventh day of the Feast of the Passover (see Deuteronomy 16:8) and the eighth day of the Feast of Tabernacles (see Leviticus 23:33-36; Nehemiah 8:18). During the latter feast, Solomon's Temple was dedicated in solemn assembly (see 2 Chronicles 7:9).
It was, in fact, a temple dedication that occasioned the first solemn assembly in this, the latter-day gospel dispensation, that being the dedication of the Kirtland Temple in March 1836. The Prophet Joseph Smith recorded that President Sidney Rigdon "called upon the several quorums, commencing with the Presidency, to manifest, by rising, their willingness to acknowledge me as Prophet and Seer, and uphold me as such, by their prayers of faith. All the quorums, in turn, cheerfully complied with this request. He then called upon all the congregation of the Saints, also, to give their assent by rising on their feet, which they did unanimously" (History of the Church 2:416).
Thus a pattern was established that subsequently has been followed when a solemn assembly for a new Church president has been held. This general pattern will be followed at the conference session where the priesthood and general body of Church members will sustain President Thomas S. Monson and his counselors — President Henry B. Eyring and President Dieter F. Uchtdorf — in the newly formed First Presidency.
Temple dedications and sustainings of new Church presidents are not the only occasions in Church history when solemn assemblies have been convened. In recent times, there have been such meetings, where priesthood holders have come together in a spirit of fasting and prayer to receive instruction from Church authorities on specific matters of concern.
Whatever its purpose, a solemn assembly is a time for us to apply scriptural admonitions given in connection with these sacred events:
"Sanctify ye a fast, call a solemn assembly, gather the elders and all the inhabitants of the land into a house of the Lord your God, and cry unto the Lord" (Joel 1:34).
And in this, the dispensation of the fulness of times:
"Sanctify yourselves that your minds become single to God, and the days will come that you shall see him; for he will unveil his face unto you, and it shall be in his own time, and in his own way, and according to his own will.
"Remember the great and last promise which I have made unto you; cast away your idle thoughts and your excess of laughter far from you.
"Tarry ye, tarry ye in this place, and call a solemn assembly, even of those who are the first laborers in this last kingdom" (Doctrine and Covenants 88:69).
At this conference, consistent with the principle of common consent, we will exercise our right and privilege to sustain the calling of a new Church president, prophet, seer and revelator and unitedly express our intention to uphold him with our prayers of faith. It is an unusual and historic opportunity whereby we apply our agency in manifesting to the Lord that we will heed the inspired counsel of His chosen servants, recognizing that He has said, "By mine own voice or by the voice of my servants, it is the same" (Doctrine and Covenants 1:38).
If, on this occasion, we hearken to the scriptural counsel to sanctify ourselves and to let our minds become single to God, surely great promises will follow in days to come.